Yoga Therapy for Marijuana Dependency – A Case Study

- Savitha Nanjangud

We are all familiar with the pervasiveness of addictive substances like alcohol, marijuana, cocaine etc. in the society we live in.  A person’s relationship with an addictive substance can go from occasional use to abuse to dependence ending finally in addiction.  In the case of marijuana, dependence or addiction is usually due to unresolved emotional factors. For harder drugs, an emotionally induced dependency can lead to a chemical dependency which requires more elaborate treatment and rehabilitation. Emotional dependency develops due to an inability to deal with life’s problems.  The drug is used as a crutch to create a temporary false euphoria and instead of addressing the underlying issue the user is in denial.  Once the effects of the drug wears off the user is more acutely aware of his problems and reaches for the drug again thus creating a vicious cycle. Teenagers and young adults who haven’t fully matured are especially vulnerable to such dependencies. This article presents a case study of a young man dependent on marijuana (to be referred to as the ‘participant’) and the yoga concepts used to help guide him towards recovery.

Yoga for Marijuana
Yoga for Marijuana

The participant was initially encouraged by his mother to talk to me just to learn some yoga practices to improve his health and mental state.   He had just quit his first job out of college due to a deep dissatisfaction, was very unsure of life’s goals and was showing signs of depression.  The patient requested a private meeting where we had a long discussion, which started with defining life goals and expanded into various topics related to yoga philosophy such as Happiness analysis, Pancha kosha, and Vedanta concepts of desires and vasanas etc. After a few hours of such discussion the participant revealed to me that he had a more serious problem he needed help with namely, that he was using marijuana quite regularly and unable to quit. The marijuana use had started in high school and continued into college purely for recreational purposes.  But when he became very unhappy with his job his marijuana use increased in frequency and led to dependency. He had tried several times to quit but was not successful and felt guilty and ashamed. He felt he was letting his family down in multiple ways and caught in a vicious cycle of using marijuana to avoid facing his problems while the use itself was creating more problems for him.

In the first meeting he was so impressed with the yoga philosophy he had just heard that he made a firm resolve to quit marijuana cold turkey and I offered to support him through the process. Instead of worrying about trying to fix a vicious cycle I encouraged him to start developing virtuous cycles which will automatically replace old habits.  To begin with, I taught him simple meditation that involved watching the breath and the thoughts. I realized that he was faced with a combination of spiritual and emotional confusions and hence I recommended some books on basic Vedanta as reading materials. Being intellectually inclined he took to them very eagerly. We met again after two weeks and had an extensive discussion and analysis in which I managed to gauge that he only had an mild dependence and not a full blown addiction. By then he had started weaning himself off marijuana although he admitted to a few slips.  Over the next 4 months we continued to meet every few weeks and had long discussions each time.  He continued to get stronger and more cheerful and started figuring out his next career move.  I could see that he was no longer dependent on the marijuana and had realized its risks to his emotional wellbeing. 

Yoga for Marijuana

My personal experience with this case taught me that nobody can really cure someone of an addiction unless he/she is a willing participant in the process.  Such people usually approach the treatment after bottoming out or coming to a realization that there is no other way. In this case the participant was an intelligent adult who had an understanding of his problem and was ready to put in the hard work required to relieve himself of his dependence.  Our job as yoga therapists, parents, friends etc. guiding people with dependencies, is to provide a safe, non-judgmental atmosphere for them to explore their emotional confusions and find their own answers. My extensive study and research into the nature of addiction, marijuana’s effects, popular perceptions of marijuana use etc. helped me develop an effective strategy with which to approach conversations with the participant. The goal was to introduce him to the yogic perspective of addressing life’s questions. While we need to stay committed to helping the participants, at the same time it is important for us to realize that chances of success are very unpredictable and the outcome is not in our hands. I believe adopting such a detached but involved attitude made him feel supported and with our continued interaction he made rapid progress. It is important for a therapist to know this may not work with all cases of substance abuse or addiction. More drastic measures may be needed in cases where the addiction is stronger or where minors are involved.

Savitha.Nanjangud is a senior faculty of Yoga Teacher Training and a passionate yoga teacher at Yoga Bharati. 

This was published in our 2013 Year End Newsletter: Read the Full Newsletter Below.